LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Some aspire to turn their knack for baking into a career. Others want to showcase treasured family recipes or skills learned at the side of loved ones who passed along their culinary secrets.
All share one thing in common — a desire to take home blue ribbons from the Kentucky State Fair.
Judging began Monday for a cornucopia of culinary entries ranging from apple pies to zucchini bread, a late-summer ritual foreshadowing the 11-day state fair that opens Thursday in Louisville. Long tables were filled with pies, cakes, cookies and breads of every assortment.
Elsewhere, judges inspected enough jars of jams, jellies and vegetables to fill several store shelves.
Each year, thousands of Kentuckians show off their cooking, canning and crafting skills at the state fair, which displays the bounty of Kentucky agriculture. The fair usually attracts about 40,000 entries, said state fair board spokeswoman Amanda Storment.
"It's the main reason for the fair," she said. "The reason the fair was established was to promote agricultural products and the agri-business that Kentucky has."
People enter their prized fruits and nuts, homebrewed beer, homemade wines, plants and flowers, honey, dairy products and even tropical and native fish. Elsewhere, there were enough quilts and afghans to fill closets. There were multitudes of other arts and crafts. A wall was line with wreaths, and a nearby table was covered with scrapbooking entries.
There was a constant stream of people toting boxes filled with baked goods being entered in the fair.
For many, entering a home-baked pie or cake is a way to carry on a family tradition.
When Melissa Barman pulled a wagon filled with cakes, cookies and breads into a convention hall at the fairgrounds Monday, she was following in the footsteps of her late mother, who won several blue ribbons for her cakes and cookies during 35 years of competition.
"Some people might think it's a silly thing, but it's something in our family that was a huge tradition," Barman said.
Barman, 42, of Louisville, has won ribbons in past years, but never a blue one.
For inspiration, she placed a photo of her mother in her kitchen during her baking spree, which spanned 25 hours from Friday to Sunday. Her goodies ranged from caramel Italian cream cake to brownies to sugar cookies and apple bread.
Lee Ann Gaydosh dropped off an apple pie baked by her husband, Robert. He's a first-time contestant, but the 43-year-old maintenance supervisor at the local Ford Motor Co. truck plant dreams of becoming a baker.
"Ford worker, pie baker. It just doesn't seem to go together, but he loves it," his wife said.
He went into a baking frenzy in the weeks leading up to the fair, and his wife said she gained eight pounds as one of his taste testers.
Karen Boone looked to add to her blue-ribbon winnings as she entered two different types of lemon pies and a banana cream pie.
She took home top honors in 2005 for a chocolate pie, the first time she ever competed at the state fair. She won another blue ribbon last year for a coconut cream pie. It was her co-workers who urged her to enter, after they devoured pies she took to work.
Blue-ribbon winners often win a few dollars, enough to cover their entry fees. But it's the ribbon, not the cash, that's coveted.
"It's the bragging rights that's most important," said Boone, 53, of Louisville.
But some of the credit goes to her mother-in-law, who long ago taught her how to make pie crust.
As a newlywed, Boone wanted to learn how to bake a pie. Once, she called her mother-in-law and said her crust didn't look right.
"She walks down the street to our apartment, she looks at my crust, walks over to the garbage can and dumps it and says, "Let's start over.' And that's the best thing she ever did for me."
Her mother-in-law died last year at the age of 100.
While Boone was looking to add to her blue-ribbon collection, Karen Block was hoping to win her first ribbon of any color.
Block, 46, of Louisville, entered three types of cookies and candy. She traces some of her recipes to a long-distant ancestor who had a bakery in Louisville. Asked what she'd do with a state fair award, she said, "I think I'd hang it on the fireplace so everybody could see it."
Elizabeth Buckner, among the judges sampling rows of canned jams and jellies, said the quality and flavor of culinary entries has remained steady through the years. It's a tradition that in many families is passed from generation to generation, she said.
"We don't look at the names before judging," she said during a break from inspecting jams. "After they're judged and all the names and the prizes are revealed, you look back and you see traditions and you see people's names" who won before or are related to past winners.